Varanim is positively chatty on the climb down into the Labyrinth, this time. "So this manse, how large a piece of ground will we need? And can it be a bit squishy?"
Varanim "You know, like boobs or a three-day corpse when the gas makes it all puffy. Squishy. I know as much about building manses as I do houses, which is not a lot."
Verbena makes kind of a face at Varanim, like maybe she's starting to lose it a little. "Generally, a manse or other geomantic collection device needs either to stand still in order to correctly focus the local energies, or move in a predetermined fashion to take advantage of local ebbs and flows. 'Squishy' is.. unlikely to be an ideal basis for either, although..." --
Verbena she rolls her eyes a little -- "I suppose it would depend on how 'squishy.'"
Varanim "Figures. That rules out a chunk of the possible sites. So here's the problem: I think the design requires some sort of crossroads, both for the usual tedious symbolic reasons and because I think a first step to mapping will be a kind of... receptor station." Varanim, not usually at a loss for words, is speaking slowly and thoughtfully.
Varanim "But those sites are likely to be busy, and I don't have a lot of time for babysitting."
Verbena "That sounds about right." She pulls out the box in which her golden chalk resides, and pulls out what looks like a folded, malleable piece of incredibly thin glass. Unfolding it, she seems to "press" it against the air, where the light chalkmarks upon it begin to glow as if she'd written them just moments ago --
Verbena then she ties a small string from her belt to one of the zeroes, so that the whole thing follows them as they walk. "I've done some digging (so to speak) on the amphiskopoli. There are five possible layouts that could be functional starting points for the construction of a self-modulating Labyrinthine manse, as you can see here."
Varanim "Hm," Varanim says, scanning the 'page' as she walks and trailing her fingers against the nearby wall. "Priority at the beginning is passive observation--the hearthstone is going to be hooked into, um, this thing." She looks a little shifty-eyed. "Some of the amphiskopoli are memorials, some of them are relatively crude staging grounds..."
Varanim "Some of them are eyes from beneath. I think we want to steal a design from one of those."
Verbena blanches for a moment. "So did you have a... spot in mind?"
Verbena "Be specific," she says, handing Varanim the chalk.
Varanim just twirls the chalk in her fingers for a minute, glaring ferociously at the page. Finally with short, sharp strokes she sketches a twining diagram: (...)
Varanim an invisible seeking, like the impulses that allow owls and bats to see in the night, and a rude little sketch that somehow suggests a canary in a coalmine--the signals may be lost. The ability to redirect what is harvested elsewhere, not just the usual Essence feed of a manse but some form of information. (...)
Varanim And central to the diagram, the symbol for stillness--the manse must deal with its difficult environment by making the minimum self-adjustments, not by hostile resistance.
Varanim "I'm not picky about the color," she adds at the end, helpfully.
Verbena "Alright," she says, studying the diagram. "I can find this spot for you."
Varanim "Really?" Varanim looks surprised, then her face lights up in a grin. "Neat." Then, more practically, "What do you want for it?"
Verbena was expecting Varanim to say something else, apparently. "...what?"
Varanim "I generally avoid involving other people in my research whenever possible, but if memory serves, people being asked to do difficult or dangerous things generally expect some form of compensation. The fact that you haven't asked for anything suggests you either appreciate how really exciting this problem is, or you're planning to tattle on me as soon as we go back to the Cascade."
Verbena gives Varanim another look -- as if to say who the hell would I tattle on you to -- but then stops to think for a moment. (...)
Verbena "Well, it's not as if this research isn't interesting on its own, but... there is something."
Varanim "Boy, it's like I have psychic powers or something. Well?"
Verbena pauses for a moment and then whispers, "I need a spectre." She looks back and forth for a minute. "Just one."
Varanim Now it's Varanim's turn to look like she was expecting something else. "...Any particular kind?" she says after a moment.
Verbena "Oh, no, that doesn't matter."
Varanim "Can do. I thought you were going to ask for something really obnoxious, like news of how your dead grandfather is doing."
Verbena "No. He was a jerk. Better off dead," she says, and smiles a little awkwardly.
Varanim "If more people were capable of that reasoning, the entire economy of Sijan would collapse," Varanim says a little wistfully. Then she rubs her hands. "I have some ideas about the adaptive linkages I can run by Kivet, so we're practically started. This is going to be so great."
Verbena "Good," she says. "I'll get back to you with a location soon." She pauses for a second and then adds, seemingly quite genuinely: "...thanks."
Varanim looks vaguely uncomfortable, then makes a little shrug and occupies herself ostentatiously with studying some of the tiny plasmic bug-things crawling along the walls on their way back.